"Some of your urban legends remind me of biker legends I've heard," Eileen Bradford of Lemon Grove, Calif., wrote to me recently. Here's an example:
"The story about Burt Reynolds giving out his credit-card number jibes with a tale about Malcolm Forbes at a Harley shop." Supposedly he told everyone there his telephone-card number, since "he was such a hip biker dude."Bradford also sent the biker version of "The Bargain Sports Car" legend. She wrote, "This one involves a 1953 Panhead or some similar righteous Harley-Davidson motorcycle advertised in the paper for (the outrageously low price of) $100."
According to the story she sent, a reader can't believe his eyes. He assumes that the figure in the paper has to be a typo, but he responds to the ad anyway, just to check it out. Sure enough, everything is just as the ad stated. The bike is a shiny, chrome-plated beauty, and when he kick-starts it, it runs like a dream.
But it turns out that the guy who owns the bike is in the process of divorcing his wife, the person who placed the ad. He had called and instructed her to sell it and send him the money. And that's exactly what she did.
Bradford added, "I've also heard a version where the husband, son or brother was killed on a vintage Harley, but the bike survived the death crash with nary a scratch and was sold to an eager biker for a song."
I didn't realize that there were distinctive biker legends like these until Bradford wrote. She, in turn, learned how they fit into the larger category of urban legends when reading my last book.
Seems like a fair trade to me -- story swapping via print and mail-- although it would certainly be more exciting to hear biker stories firsthand at a Hell's Angels or Sundowners rally.
Bradford's letter surprised me in another way too: It was detailed, witty, neatly typed and five pages long.
Somehow that didn't seem to me to fit the writer's description of herself: "a member of the biker community for years, and married to a biker for the last 10."
What did I expect, a letter scrawled on the back of a beer carton with a bloody finger or an oil dipstick? Shame on me for harboring such a stereotype!
My assumption that all bikers must be crude clods was challenged by yet another of Eileen Bradford's biker legends. She explained, "This one is a variation on your story about the scuzzy hitchhiker and the cleancut one."
This biker legend involves a storekeeper in Sturgis, S.D., during Bike Week, which is held there every year in August. Thousands of bikers converge on Sturgis in their annual "run" or "rally."
"About 25 longhared, dirty, dangerous-looking bikers and their women barge into the store, buying truckloads of beer, whiskey, soda, bread, baloney, etc.
"The storekeeper is terrified the whole time they're in his store, but when several clean-cut young jock-types come in, the owner calms down a bit, figuring these all-American youths will protect him from the biker trash.
"The bikers pay for their stuff and leave. The storekeeper turns to the college boys and says, 'Wow! I'm sure glad they're gone!"
"The college kids all holler, 'Yeah, so are we!,' and they pull out guns and stick up the store, taking all the money that the bikers had just spent."
Another rally legend is about a biker trying to pump gas into his motorcycle while drunk. The bike tips over on top of him, spilling gas all over, and the trapped man calls to the cashier for help.